Category: 2012 Japan Visit

Tokyo – Our Final Few Days

In The Heart Of Tokyo …..   Our hotel for the last few days was situated right next to Tokyo Railway Station in the heart of Tokyo. Very convenient when returning from Kyoto and also for our journey out to Narita Airport on the Narita Express train. We arrived early afternoon and checked into the hotel then went out to explore the area spending much of our time in the Tokyo Station. It is just amazing how big these stations are complete with department stores and shopping centres and more restaurants than you can imagine. It seems that no one in Tokyo eats at home because many of the restaurants are full and some have ques outside of 30 to 40 people waiting for a table.


View From Our Hotel Window Down To Tokyo Station

Exploring A New Area ….. The following day we ventured further afield, but due to inclement weather our plans were a little curtailed. We hopped on the train and travelled 4 stops to a suburb called Okachimachi. There is a well known shopping arcade adjacent to the railway line called Ameyayokocho. This shopping arcade is built under the railway line and runs for a kilometer with other shops running off the side streets. And what a contrast to the Ginza. This area is where the locals shop. Prices are much lower but so is the quality of the stores. An interesting contrast to the Ginza and great if you are looking for sporting equipment or clothing.


Ameyayokocho Arcade – Where The Locals Shop

An Amazing Store …..     We walked from Okachimachi to the next station, Ueno, had a quick lunch then headed back to Electric Town, Akihabara to look in just one electrical store. Yodobashi Akiba. This 10 story building selling just electrical goods, cameras, computers and toys has to be seen to be believed. We took the elevator to the top floor and slowly worked out way down to ground floor level. We didn’t have time to do the basement floor and sub basement floor. One complete floor of this building is dedicated to cameras and camera accessories and every camera is on display so you can touch and feel it with no restrictions.


Yodobashi Akiba Electrical Store – 10 Floors Dedicated To Electrical Goods

Our Final Day ….. On our final day in Tokyo we went to Shibuya, about 20 minutes from downtown Tokyo. This is a major regional district and popular with teenagers for fashion and entertainment. It is an area where you can rent a hotel room by the hour or the half day. I have no idea why you would want to do this but if someone knows please let me know. We spent a couple of hours in Shibuya taking in the sights and fashions and then headed back to the hotel in preparation for our return home. A great two weeks in a most interesting and enjoyable country.


Hotel Rooms By The Hour – Interesting

By the way. We stayed in a much nicer hotel that the one in the photo above. We payed by the day, not by the hour.

Off To Kyoto – The Old Capital

Shinkansen – Bullet Train

A Great Way To Travel ….. It was with a tinge of sadness that we left our cosy apartment in East Ginza. We said our goodbyes to Scott who had three more days in Tokyo and headed for Tokyo Station and the Shinkansen (bullet train) bound for Kyoto. Just over 2 hours later and a very relaxing train ride we arrived in Kyoto, and after a short taxi ride we were in our new apartment in Kyoto. In the afternoon we walked around our local area, found the supermarket and took on the adventure of buying some supplies all in Japanese for our 5 day stay in Kyoto. That evening we took a short walk to the famous Gion area. Gion is Kyoto’s most famous geisha district. It is filled with shops, restaurants and teahouses where geishas entertain. Gion has a high concentration of traditional wooden merchant house and due to the fact that property taxes were formerly based upon street frontage, the houses were built with narrow facades only five to six meters wide, but extend up to twenty meters in from the street.

Gion – Hanami-koji St

On Your Bike …..  On our first full day in Kyoto we decided the best way to get around was by bike.   There are numerous bike hire companies in Kyoto so we went to one relatively close to our apartment and hired two electric bikes for the day.   Bike hire is very cheap and for the day for the two bikes only cost Yen 3000 which is about $36.00.  Very good value.  Our first stop on our bike trip was to  Kodaiji Temple.  This turned out to be an amazing experience.  Instead of just a temple we found a complete area full of shops and restaurants all aimed at tourists.   No need for morning tea, every second shop was offering samples of their food and drinks they were selling or just offering free coffee and biscuits to get you to stop at their store.  There were hundreds of school children there on day excursions and they were so happy and friendly with many of them saying hello to you in English.  The Temple though turned out to be a bit of a dissappointment as it was completely covered for renovation.

Kodaiji Temple Entaran

Our Next Stops …..  Our next stop was the Heian Jingu Shrine about a 4 km bike ride up one of the busiest streets in Kyoto.  A walk around the Shrine for 30 minutes off to our next stop the Imperial Palace.   For those that are interested, a Temple always has a Budda and a Shrine doesn’t.   Usually Shrines are used for weddings and Temples are used for burials.   The Imperial Palace is only open to the public twice per year and we were lucky enough to be in Kyoto for the Autumn opening. So along with 50,000 Japanese and about 4 Europeans we walk through this most impressive array of buildings and gardens.   One thing we give the Japanese credit for is how to handle large volumes of people and whilst there was a lot of people at the Palace, you felt like you were just having a casual stroll around the Palace.

A Small Section Of The Imperial Palace – Kyoto

From the Imperial Palace we rode our bikes to the Nijo Castle.  For a Yen 500 ($6.00) you were able to walk through the castle and all the gardens. Nijo Castle was built in 1603 as the residence of the first shogun of the Edo Period (1603-1867). His grandson Iemitsu completed the castle’s palace buildings 23 years later.

Nijo Castle Entrance – Kyoto

Japanese Gardens In Noji Castle – Kyoto

Back on our bikes to ride home as it was getting late and it was dark around 5.15pm, we came across a roof covered street (Sanjo St) which runs for a kilometer and contained shops and restaurants.  Although it is pedestrian only, you are allowed to ride push bikes so we ventured down to explore.  We came across a vendor selling traditional Japanese crepes using sesame seeds, honey and some unrecognisable ingredients and not having any lunch we stopped to give them a try.  They were delicious.

Crepes For Afternoon Tea in Sanjo Arcade – Kyoto

Cycling Kyoto – Liz in Sanjo Arcade

So our first full day in Kyoto turned out to be a great day especially since we were able to enter the Imperial Palace.

Venturing Further Afield …..  Day 2 and we decided to go to Nara, a 45 minute train journey from Kyoto.  Our morning in Nara was spent visiting the Kofukuji Temple, going to the Government Offices which has a viewing deck on the top floor of the building for a 360 degree view over Nara, then on to the Yoshiki-en Traditional Japanese Gardens.  From the gardens we walked to the Todaiji Temple which is the world’s largest wooden structure and built by the Emperor Shomu in the 8th century.   This is an amazing building and contains a giant Budda (15 meters high) and two very impressive guardian deities.

Todaiji Temple – Nara (The Largest Wooden Structure In The World)

Many of the main attractions in Nara are situated in or around a 660 hectares Nara Park which contains an abundance of wild deer.  It is a novelty when you see your first couple of deer as they are very tame and come up to you for food.   It was a novelty to see school children lined up with a deer in the middle of them for a photo shoot.  The deer are so tame they just stand there and take it all in.

Wild Deer In Nara Park

From the Temple we walked through the park back to town and by this time it was 3:00 PM so we searched out a restaurant serving traditional Japanese cuisine and had a delicious 4 course lunch for the two of us for just Yen 1600 (about $20.00).   What we have noticed in Japan is that if you go to restaurants used by the locals, the prices are very reasonable and excellent quality.   If you go to the restaurants targeted at tourists you pay very high prices.  The same the world over.

Ichizoku Restaurant Where We Had Lunch – Nara

By the time we finished lunch it was time to head back to Kyoto and our cosy apartment.

A Day In The Metropolis …..   We had not explored the downtown area so on our third day, Saturday, we spent the day wandering the main shopping area of Kyoto.   For a city of only 1. 5 million population this downtown area is amazing.  The variety and quality of the shops, department stores and restaurants is just amazing.   To put it in perspective the shopping district of Kyoto would be larger and have a much wider range of stores than Melbourne CBD. The Teramachi Shopping Arcade, pictured below, is one of a few arcades in the CBD and is about a kilometer long.

Teramachi Shopping Arcade – Kyoto

Another arcade, Nishiki Food Market, is not quite as long but contains only food stores of every possible variety.  Nearly all the stores have tastings of their product and is is a real experience to walk along tasting the wide variety of foods on offer, and not knowing what you are sampling.

Market Stalls in Nishiki Food Market – Kyoto

Dinner In Gion …..   Saturday evening we walked back to the Gion area for dinner and went to a restaurant called Issen Yoshoku which is famous in Kyoto.  We walked in and were promptly seated and given a rather large red menu with Japanese writing on the front.  To our surprise when we opened it there was only one item on the menu.   Yes one item. It consisted of a pancake style base made of tempura batter on which was piled spring onion, egg, dried shrimp, grilled fish paste, dried bonito (fish), ginger, Konjak jelly (plant) and flour. When cooked on a hot plate it is folded in half like a calzone pizza and served with a sweet soy sauce.  It turned out to be delicious and we understood why there were queues outside the waiting for takeaway and the restaurant was full of customers.

Issen-Yoshoku Being Prepared

Our Delicious Meal – Issen Yoshoku

Having no desert on the menu we then found a bar on the 5th floor of a building that specialised in only crepes and drinks and had the most delicious crepes you could imagine whilst sitting next to two elderly geishas and being entertained by a very competent barman.

Rob With A New Friend

Our Final Day In Kyoto …..    Sunday was our final day in this beautiful city and we decided to see a couple of tourist sites on the outskirts of Kyoto.  The first, a short train ride away was the Fushimi-inari taisha Shrine.  This Shrine was in immaculate condition and very impressive.  Obviously Sunday is an important ceremonial day in Japan because there were many Japanese children dressed in Kimonos and boys in traditional dress. The Shrine is famous for its thousand torii gates which straddle a network of trails behind the main building.  The trail leads into the forest of Mount Inari and runs for 4 km to the top of the mountain.

The Fushimi-inari taisha Shrine

 Our train took us back to Kyoto Station in order to catch a bus to our next destination, the Kinkakuji Temple.  Kyoto Station is an architectural masterpiece and I have never seen a train station so imposing.  There are escalators that run up 10 floors in a row to the top of the building where you can see down into the main station ground floor.  There are three departments stores in the station and the total floor area of shops is probably double the size of Chadstone Shopping Center.

Kyoto Station – An Architectural Masterpiece

 Not Just Another Temple …..  This time we left the comfort of the trains for the Kyoto bus system to venture north to the Kinkakuji Temple or as it is more commonly known, The Golden Pavilion.   Well we certainly left the best till last.   This temple is covered in gold leaf and as we arrived mid afternoon it glistened in the setting sun.  This is just a magnificent building set on the edge of a lake and surrounded by beautiful Japanese gardens.

Kinkakuji Temple – The Golden Pavilio

And so our 5 days in Kyoto comes to an end.   An amazing contrast to Tokyo.  You see Kyoto as old Japan and Tokyo as new Japan.

We Go Our Separate Ways ……

Sunday, We All Do Different Things ….. Sunday turned out to be an interesting day for all of us. Liz went down to the Ginza to do what women do best…. Shopping. Scott went to the Tenno Sho Autumn Group 1 horse racing at the Tokyo Race track and Rob went off to Akihabara, the electrical district of Tokyo.

Scott’s Adventure ….. The Tenno Sho (Autumn) 2012 Group 1 race day at Tokyo racecourse is the biggest event on the Tokyo racing calendar. With the Emperor and Empress making an appearance for only the second time in the race’s 150 year history. Around 150,000 people, predominantly men, made the trek out to Fuchuhonmachi about an hour from Tokyo. Unlike the Melbourne Cup spring racing carnival where horses share the stage with fashion, this was a day of pure racing with races starting at 10:30 AM and events every 25 minutes or so making it a hectic day.

Tokyo Race Track

The track and mounting yard were in a amazing condition and despite the large crowd you were still able to get a good look at the horses before they went out to race. After reading the form (available in English fortunately) it was time to negotiate the betting tickets (in Japanese). After some initial problems working out what Scott was doing, he was able to both place a bet and back a winner at 8/1 in the second race earning a cool Y3,700 (about A$45). He had little luck for the rest of the day though with one horse being beaten by a nose. The Emperor and Empress were introduced to the crowd to thunderous applause as they sat in a special box right at the top of the grandstand. The main race was run and won by a big outsider and an Italian jockey who spoke the first bit of English Scott had heard all day.

Liz’s Expedition ….. Our apartment is in the best location for Liz to walk into the Ginza. It was a Sunday and the main street was closed off for a big brass band parade in the Ginza. She was not sure what the occasion was being celebrated, but just enjoyed the moment. There were fantastic department stores and interesting food departments where all different foods are presented in beautiful displays. Once you have made up your mind to buy, the product is wrapped in wrapping including an ice pack to keep it cool. The Ginza is expensive but the shopping is truely amazing. There are high rise buildings everywhere. It is a paradise for shopaholics

Akihabara – Electric Town in Tokyo

Rob’s Culture Shock ….. Being an electronic gadget freak, a trip to Tokyo is not complete without a trip to Akihabara, the electronic capital of Tokyo. Every type of electronic gadget; cameras, computers, mobile phones, tablets and electronic components is available along with video games, comic books and anime. There are over 250 shops ranging from tiny little shop caves to massive 9 story buildings dedicated only to electronic equipment. Being a Sunday this area was packed, and I mean packed, with young people looking for the latest gadget,mobile phone or video game. Also notable in this area are the Maid Cafes. On every street corner there are young girls dressed as house maids trying to induce you to go to their theme cafes where you are served drinks and meals by the maids. To us it sounds a little corny but it has been a huge success in Japan.

Harajuka – Sunday Afternoon Packed with Teenagers

Liz & Rob Get Back Together …… By mid afternoon Liz and I had returned to our apartment and decided to head off to Harajuka, another culture shock for both of us. This area is the fashion capital of Tokyo for young teenage girls and on Sunday is crowded. The focal point of Harajuku’s teenage culture is Takeshita Dori (Takeshita Street) and its side streets, which are lined by many trendy shops, fashion boutiques, used clothes stores, crepe stands and fast food outlets geared towards the fashion and trend conscious teens. In order to experience the teenage culture at its most extreme, visit on a Sunday, when many young people gather around Harajuku Station and engage in cosplay (“costume play”), dressed up in crazy costumes to resemble anime characters, punk musicians. What an amazing experience.

Harajuka – Teenagers Dressed To Impress

Monday, We Slow Down ….. We decided to slow the pace down on Monday as we had been going flat chat for 5 days. First off back to Tokyo Station to organise our Shinkansen tickets and take a look at the newly renovated great dome at the Maranouchi entrance which was bombed during WW II. Then a visit to the Rikugien Gardens to the north of Tokyo. This garden is a typical example a traditional Japanese Garden of the famous gardens of the Edo Period. We had a picnic lunch right in the middle of this beautifully maintained and a very restful place right in the middle of Tokyo. From there back to central Tokyo to visit Sake Plaza which represents all the sake manufacturers in Japan. For a very moderate price of Yen530 you get to taste 5 different sakes ranging in alcohol content and sweetness. Sake is an acquired taste and best served warm rather than from the fridge so we decided that Japanese beer and Californian Chardonnay are more to our taste. Monday finished off with a very nice meal at a tiny little Japanese restaurant just around the corner from our apartment. Walking from the apartment to find a restaurant we met a Japanese gentleman and his son who could speak English and he stopped to talk to us and recommended the restaurant so we gave it a try. Turned out to be good advice.

Rikugien Traditional Japanese Gardens


Scott Enjoying A Beer At The Local Restaurant We Dined At

Our Last Full Day In Tokyo …. Tuesday was spent with a ride on the monorail, then a short train under Tokyo Bay to Odaiba Island for a visit to the Mega Web Toyota City Showcase. This is a Toyota Showroom like no other. It displays all the latest Toyota models and you can test drive all the cars on a specially design track contained within the complex. As well there is driving simulators to allow you to drive rally cars with and without Toyota Electronic Stability Control systems and a special theatre that allows you to experience a race circuit in a Toyota race car. Next to the Toyota Showroom is the 118 metre Tokyo Skywheel which we had to go on. It gives a great aerial perspective of Tokyo. From there we went to the Sony Science Exhibition and eventually took the monorail back to Tokyo.


Liz and Scott At Toyota Mega Web

For our final night in Tokyo with Scott we went to Roppongi, the entertainment centre of Tokyo. This area is full of restaurants, nights clubs and other form of entertainments. We were after traditional Japanese meals so searched out a restaurant that met our requirements. We ordered a selection of dishes, half of which we had no idea of what they were. They all turned out to be delicious and it was a great finish to our week in Japan.

Sashima and Other Delights in Roppongi

Tomorrow we depart for Kyoto and Scott spends another 2 days in Tokyo before heading home.



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